From Console RPG to PC RPG
Japanese developer Experience first made Stranger of Sword City only available on the Playstation Vita and Xbox One earlier this year, but now we can take turns battling enemies onto PCs as well, which is the version being discussed in this review. Experience have done a fair few other RPGs in their time, such as Demon Gaze and Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, both of which have mixed reception. Although, these two games make it clear that they have had “experience” with making RPGs, and people can learn from their mistakes, so Stranger of Sword City should be their crowning acheivement. The key words being “should be”.
The story of the game has your preset main character that hilariously can decide to have a male voice in a woman’s body, and manages to survive a plane crash. Upon waking up, your character realises that they’re in a mysterious alien world called Escario, also known as The City of Swords. You’re then told by another human you meet that you’re not the only one to arrive on the planet by accident, and so she takes you to an entire village of these outsiders who call themselves “Strangers”. It’s an interesting mystery to start off the game.
Stranger of Sword City is a turn-based Japanese dungeon crawler with some very nice artwork, however the the animations for each of the characters’ actions are a little too simplistic to be satisfying. Part of the fun when it comes to other RPGs is watching your character decimate an opponent with a flashy attack and see damaging numbers get higher and higher, becoming an unstoppable killing machine. With so few animations to speak of, watching enemies dissappear does not seem to have the same impact.
The text boxes in battle also do not automatically scroll, which you means you have to keep pressing a button to skip to the next text box until you can choose what to do in the next turn. You can alternatively pick the fast apply option which breezes through all of the text boxes in about a split second, but that is not the best option either, as the text boxes move too quickly to see what just happened in your turn.
What is a neat mechanic compared to other turn-based RPGs is that by accessing the map, you can decide which square tile you want your party to automatically move to, with only random encounters and set enemy encounters to stop you, but that happens fairly infrequently. Just be careful and smart when you do come across enemies however, because Stranger of Sword City also supports permadeath, which means if a character dies, then they are dead for good and will not come back; reminiscent to Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem series. Characters thankfully have life points which can be spent in Escario to bring him/her back to life, but once those life points are gone and a character dies, that’s it, you’re not getting another chance. With your main character, you can increase or decrease the number of life points they have by adjusting their age. Overall, just like the Fire Emblem series, this is a nice incentive to keeping your party members alive and carefully thinking about your strategies.
This will mean a lot of grinding is involved if you want to come even close to getting further into the game. As early as the first dungeon will you encounter enemies that are several levels above your party and can not only hurt and take a lot of punishment, but some of them can also bring in more enemies to wreck everything. It’s never fun to grind in RPGs, and Stranger of Sword City is no exception. There is nothing exciting about travelling through the same type of land that looks like it’s been ripped out of 1993’s Doom, and having to battle enemies that can kill you with little to no effort, only to have the experience bar fill up to an insultingly small degree, and repeat the same process over and over again until you think you’re ready to tackle the dungeon; which you probably aren’t.
What does help alleviate the time during battles though is the ability to repeat a character’s actions, or even the entire party’s to save you rapidly pressing the select button, just to get the battle over and done with as quickly as possible. Even with this feature though, some enemies simply refuse to die and keep dodging your attacks and have much more health than necessary. Players can pick a class for their character, but no matter which one they pick, they’re most likely going to struggle plowing through the game anyway.
A quick way to find battles however is through Stranger of Sword City’s interesting hiding feature. By standing in a checkered square tile on the map, the party can choose to dissapear at the cost of Divinity Points until an enemy crosses their path and give you a chance to earn treasure upon defeating the leader. Divinity Points can also be used to perform special abilities, such as providing a 100% chance of escaping a battle, which is very useful in case the lineup of enemies don’t work to your favour.
Stranger of Sword City feels sort of like a prototype for a DRPG. The artwork is very well detailed, but the 3D environments are rather bland and not very appealing, and the gameplay for the most part is about as by the numbers as an RPG can be. The incredible spike in difficulty is a tremendous turn off for average players, but may feel right at home with players of games like FromSoftware’s Souls series. The hiding and fast battle mechanics are welcome additions to the formula as well, but that doesn’t excuse how often you have to grind to conquer the dungeons and the many enemies and bosses in the game. I’ve played less interesting RPGs, but Stranger of Sword City definitely did not stick with me for very long. It could be that I do not have the aquired taste this game demands, but there are sure to be some players out there who enjoy this sort of thing.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox One, PC (reviewed), Playstation Vita; Publisher: Experience Inc; Developer: Experience Inc; Players: 1 ; Released: June 6, 2016 ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Stranger of Sword City given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.